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Boris Johnson leaves door open to rethink on nurses' pay rise

Ben Riley-Smith
·3-min read
Boris Johnson - Geoff Pugh
Boris Johnson - Geoff Pugh

Boris Johnson on Sunday opened the door to rethinking his 1 per cent pay rise for NHS workers by noting it will not be finalised until an independent review body reports back.

The Prime Minister defended the Government proposal, which triggered a backlash when it was revealed on Thursday, and said he was “massively grateful” to doctors and nurses.

But he stressed that figures for salaries would only be locked once independent pay review bodies had given their recommendations in the spring.

Similar comments were made by Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, during his morning broadcast round, suggesting the Government was not ruling out an about-turn.

Over the weekend public opposition to the proposal that nurses be given a pay rise of just one per cent was seen in an Opinium poll published by The Observer.

Some 72 per cent of respondents believed the pay deal should be more generous. That included concern from most Conservatives, with 58 per cent of Tory voters saying it was too low.

Pushed on the pay proposal during a visit to a Covid-19 vaccination centre in north London on Sunday, the Prime Minister did not rule out a rethink.

“I’m massively grateful to all NHS staff and indeed for social care workers who’ve been heroic throughout the pandemic,” Mr Johnson said.

"What we have done is try to give them as much as we can at the present time. The independent pay review body will obviously look at what we've proposed and come back.

"Don't forget that there has been a public sector pay freeze, we're in pretty tough times.”

Mr Johnson noted his Government had spent an extra £62 billion supporting the NHS during the Covid crisis, saying: “My gratitude is overwhelming and I’m so grateful particularly to the nurses.”

Mr Williamson, who gave a string of interviews on Sunday about the reopening of English schools on Monday, also stressed the role of the pay review bodies.

He said on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: "We put forward what we believe we can afford and it’s part of a process and that is what will be looked at.”

NHS staff, like other public sector workers such as police officers and teachers, have their salaries negotiated by independent pay-review bodies.

The Government submitted its recommendation last week for a one per cent rise. Some health unions have pushed for a pay increase of more than 12 per cent.

Recommendations from the pay bodies are expected by May, with Government ministers then able to make their final decisions on pay - meaning a higher figure than 1 per cent could be adopted in the end.

The politics are tricky for the Conservatives, with Labour traditionally seen as the party most trusted with the NHS, according to polls.

Mr Johnson pushed an "austerity is over" message during the 2019 election campaign, at which he swept to a Commons majority, that included promises to build 40 hospitals.

Tory MPs have privately told The Telegraph they expect a reversal from the Government.

Labour has been quick to accuse the Tories of hypocrisy, given the praise for NHS workers by Cabinet ministers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said on The Andrew Marr Show: "It was absolutely disgusting that the Tory Government unveiled a Budget which is putting tax up for hard-working families and cutting pay for nurses.”

He declined to rule out joining nurses on the picket line if they strike, as has been floated by the Royal College of Nursing.

Mr Ashworth predicted there would not be a strike, but added: “I will always support our nurses, I will always stand by the nurses and I will always support the rights of staff to take industrial action.”